If a green lawn is a sign of health, then the first brightest, greenest lawn in the spring has to be good, right? If you knew that what it takes to make a lawn jump the season, you might think differently.
Nature has its own schedule, worked out over millenia. Greening up earlier than nature intends requires heavy doses of fast-acting nitrogen. Much of it ends up in runoff and pollutes your nearby beloved water bodies. Over-fertilization causes fast, weak growth, at the expense of deep, healthy roots. This chemical-fueled growth is more susceptible to fungal diseases and insect attacks, which means more chemicals will be needed later on to correct preventable issues. This is the beginning of a cycle of chemical dependence – your lawn on drugs.
Why do you need your lawn to be green before its time? Will you think differently? When you see early green lawns, will you give them the (green) thumbs down? Will you be proud that your lawn will not join the party until it is old enough to drink (natural nutrients) responsibly?
After some early spring pruning here at PRFCT HQ, we have an abundance of pussy willow (salix discolor) that we placed in water for rooting. We have heard that you can use newer growth from willow cuttings to create a natural plant rooting hormone so we decided to put it to the test and invite you to join our willow water experiment!
Plant rooting hormones are substances that stimulate root growth in plants. Some plants naturally produce their own rooting hormones and of those plants, willow species are considered the best providers of natural, organic rooting stimulators available. This is because of the presence of indole butyric acid (IBA) and salicylic acid (SA) in their species.
IBA is a plant hormone that stimulates root growth and is present in high concentrations in the growing tips of willow plants. By soaking, you can get significant quantities of IBA to infuse into the water. SA is a plant hormone involved in signaling the plants defenses and works to fight off infection and threats giving cuttings a better chance to thrive.
Below, follow the steps to brew your own natural plant root hormone from your spring clippings of any Salix species of willow. We'll share with you how our experiment is progressing and send us your results!
How to Make Willow Water
Gather a handful of willow twigs, cut early in the spring. Use the newest, greenest twigs you can get because these have the highest acidic properties. These are the supple green new-growth portions of our willow cuttings.
Remove all of the leaves (and compost them, or throw them in the garden as mulch)
Cut your twigs into short pieces
Place your twig pieces into a pot or a mason jar, and cover with boiling water, just as if you were making tea. Let it stand overnight.
When finished, pour the liqui d though a strainer or sieve and store in glass container with a tight lid.
If you keep your willow water in the refrigerator you can use for up to two months.
To use, just pour some of your willow water into a small jar and place the cuttings there like you would flowers in a vase. Or you can use it to water whatever propagating medium you have used for your cutting.
We will test our willow water on this Jade plant propagation. So far we have waited 2 weeks for roots and they are just starting to appear. Stay tuned for results!
Step 1: Relieve Your EcoAnxiety, Get Started.
Hi all, Emily here, the new PRFCT Environmental Outreach Coordinator and I want to help you relieve your eco-anxiety, which is exactly what it sounds like: a gnawing tension and fear that there’s nothing we can do to save the planet from doom.
But here is an action you can start right away, so allow me to talk a little trash in this series about composting. According to the EPA, 30% of all solid waste sent to landfills is compostable organic matter. You can easily reclaim that 30% of “trash” and help turn it into environmentally beneficial material for your landscape.
It is easy. Purchase a container to collect kitchen scraps. I use a countertop container with a carbon filter. Edwina uses a 20-gallon flip-flip top garbage can with a removable (hole-free) bucket. City-dwellers, you can still do this! Freeze your compost in a bag and then either take it to a recycling center (yes, effort) or bring it with you to the country when you flee on the weekends.
Empty your container every few days where you plan to build your outdoor bin - next week we will show you how to design and build it.
We found the PRFCT trees for your PRFCT landscape at Raemelton Tree Farm in Adamstown, MD. If you take the time and effort to manage your landscape chemical free, why would you want to start with plants already treated with them? And of course, organic plants grow better organically, so why not trees?
With over 300 tree species to choose from, there is bound to be a PRFCT tree to compliment your needs! Check out Raemelton’s 2018 Organic Tree Availability.
Raemelton's owner Steve Black started the farm in 2004 and from inception focused on sustainability and best management practices for pest control. By 2013, they created a field just for sustainability research and though it seemed outlandish this was their first step towards all-organic production. In January 2016 they became the first nursery in the country to offer USDA certified organic trees.
“Being first into the Organic landscape tree market meant that there was nobody to ask about the realities of organic production of ornamental trees. In the end we closed our eyes, gritted our teeth and jumped.”
Full Interview with Raemelton owner Steve Black
Q: How long have you been a grower and how did you come into the profession/industry?
A: I started Raemelton Farm in 2004 from scratch. I had decided to move on from my work in international affairs and going back to agriculture felt right. I grew up working on my dad’s horse farm in Ohio so it’s not as crazy a career move as it sounds. We bought the property in 2004 and put the first trees in the ground in the spring of 2005. The farm was a poorly maintained dairy operation so the soil was great but the infrastructure needed some TLC…and more than a few roll-off dumpsters!
Q: At what point in your career did you transition to organic and toxic-free?
A: From day one Raemelton has operated with more than a nod to sustainability and was a central element of the initial business plan. We instituted a real Integrated Pest Management program right off the bat. In addition to using every Best Management Practice currently available we have a robust program for researching and developing new tools, techniques, and strategies for pest management.
By 2013 things were moving along smoothly enough at the farm that we decided we might need to establish a special field just for sustainability research. We had in mind an area to test out REALLY outlandish innovative new production practices. As the thinking progressed it became clear that what we were moving toward was an actual organic field. Because of all our practices in the conventional fields…IPM, cover crops, and the use of compost, it was not that big a change to move to certified organic processes.
Q: What do you feel was the primary catalyst for that shift?
A: One of the nursery industry trade magazines ran an article about the future of organic ornamental plants just before we started thinking about it. Most of the article, and the quotes from experts and industry heavy hitters, all came down to two points. First, will any consumer really care if their new tree is certified Organic? Almost everybody reading this interview will laugh at that question! We assumed (hoped) that there would be a market for the trees. It seemed like the end consumers were ready for Organic ornamentals, even if the nursery industry wasn’t.
The second point in the article was more worrisome. Can you produce a tree in the same amount of time without sacrificing on any aesthetic standards? All the market research for organic fruits and vegetables says that people will pay a premium for organic if, and ONLY if it looks just like its conventional counterpart. An Organic ‘Charlie Brown’ tree will not work for our customers…certified or not.
The whole article implied that it was probably ‘impossible’ to do organic nursery production in a profitable way. One of the experts quoted in the article said that she didn’t think there was anybody ‘good enough’ to get certified. We had that quote blown up, printed big and hanging on the office wall for the whole three year transition period!
Being first into the Organic landscape tree market meant that there was nobody to ask about the realities of organic production of ornamental trees. In the end we closed our eyes, gritted our teeth and jumped.
Q: What do you think is the primary advantage of starting your organic landscape with clean plant material?
A: If you care enough to take the time and effort to manage your landscape using organic methods, why in the world would you start with plants already containing materials you would not allow to be used on your property?
We’re also selling what we don’t do to the environment to produce your trees. Today the production process is part of the product. People want to feel good about where, how, and by whom their purchases were produced. The certified Organic tree fills that need. People can have confidence that we didn’t create some dead zone nursery field just so they could have a pretty Black Gum tree in their front yard.
Q: Do you have a favorite tree you grow at Raemelton Farm?
A: We grow more than 300 tree species and cultivars so that’s a tough question. Really it changes from day to day and over the course of the year. Right now in winter I love the snake bark maples, like Acer pensylvanicum. Once we start to think about spring getting here I like the very early flowering plants like Japanese Apricot, Prunus mume, or Kintoki Cornel Dogwood, Cornus officinalis ‘Kintoki’. In the summer I enjoy the fruit trees. We have various things ripening over the summer so I can snack on Serviceberries early in the season, then Cherries and Peaches. Pawpaws and apples are tasty in the fall. We even have some female Date Plum, Diospiros lotus, which taste great after they’ve been through a frost or two. Fall is a really pretty time on the farm. The colors can be spectacular. From the awesome red of the Wildfire Black Gum to the rainbow leaves of the Persian Iron Wood, Parrotia persica.
The seed catalogs are arriving and if you’re like us, you can’t wait to dive in but may be wondering what is the benefit of opting for organic seed?
Conventional seed production is one of the most chemically intensive types of agriculture, and is controlled by a handful of companies. Since seed crops are not for human consumption, pesticide regulation is lax. Crops grown for seed must go through their entire life-cycle before they can produce seeds. To combat pests and diseases during their long life-cycle, pesticides are applied liberally and often.
On the other hand, organic seed crops are managed to increase resiliency, focusing on soil health to provide nutrients and bolster plants’ highly adaptive immune systems. Groundbreaking research in the fields of epigenetics has proven that plants even pass along information to their offspring to help them better respond to the growing conditions experienced by the parents, but this only happens if your plants have been exposed to natural challenges versus spraying synthetic chemicals and disrupting this process. To sum it up: organic seeds grow better organically!
Organic seeds have a profound potential for improving our food and agriculture systems. Seeds can be adapted for warmer or dryer conditions, for water use efficiency, for improved nutritional content, and for flavor!
Where to buy seeds adapted to your area: